The Staller Center stands out on Stony Brook’s campus not only because of the diverse array of events it holds, but also in the audience it welcomes.
The Center advertises to both students and off-campus patrons from the surrounding community. Lately, though, Staller seems to fall short of satisfying the interests of their two largest audience populations. There are immense differences between the young college student demographic and the often affluent outside community members, and in the Center’s quest to appeal to both, it often piques the interest of neither.
The roster for this fall seems on-par for the Center: the usual classical performances, a few vocal artists and some multidisciplinary performance groups. This year’s lineup includes Lion Babe, a glittery funk-soul duo that will resonate well with fans of artists like Solange and Jorja Smith, and classic performances including the Emerson String Quartet, who will be performing some of the last shows of their career at Staller this season.
Beyond these talents, though, there is little to cater to the interests of the student body.
It seems like the Staller programmers are attempting to appeal to both audiences at once. In their effort to straddle the two communities, they at times miss their desired middle ground. Finding acts suitable for both groups is no small feat, so it is understandable that these attempts might fall flat.
Still, there is a wealth of artists out there that could draw a crowd from both the campus and the locale, such as widely popular comedians Hasan Minhaj and Trevor Noah, or rising authors Michelle Zauner and Carmen Maria Machado; it would be neat to see them featured more. Especially considering Stony Brook’s rich history of hosting novel artists (Pink Floyd, The Talking Heads and Billy Joel, to name a few), there is a growing sense of untapped potential with the chosen acts as of late.
There are, of course, always going to be acts that will draw a specific sort of audience — no art will be to everyone’s taste. The classical performances, for example, are a favorite of outside patrons and those involved with Staller’s thriving undergraduate and graduate music programs, but not the student body at large. Students are often willing to attend shows by unique vocalists and dance performers, but they don’t necessarily seek out this exact type of spectacle. Staller appeals to students with movie screenings instead, and while these are enjoyable, live shows more tailored to a younger demographic would help draw attention and boost student attendance numbers.
This is not to say that Staller should become a wholly student-focused center; performers brought in by groups like the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and Student Engagement and Activities (SEA) for events like Brookfest and comedy nights do plenty to exclusively serve the student population. Still, the Staller programmers would do well to keep their finger on the pulse of student interests and should consider collaborating with USG and SEA for student-driven events.
In order to better serve the student body’s interests, a new level of communication is necessary, and many students would surely jump at the opportunity to give feedback or suggestions on Staller programming. Hopefully future seasons will bridge the gap of student and community audiences, and I look forward to the artistic and musical celebrations that will come of it.